I read somewhere that a local organization here was going to have a celebration of “Juneteenth.”
That is all fine and good, but the organization that was putting it on was a group of white people wanting to celebrate an African American cultural event without consulting with the African American community in our area.
I don’t believe this was done out of malice towards the African American community as much as from lack of knowledge and insensitivity.
So I write this article not out of criticism, but as an instructive endeavor to educate.
What is “Juneteenth?”
As defined on the website https://www.june teenth.com/history.htm: “Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — which had become official Jan. 1, 1863.
“Juneteenth today celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.”
According to a friend, this day is considered a sacred day in the African American community. In the article “A Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Cultural Appropriation,” in order to understand cultural appropriation, we must first look at the two words that make up the term. Culture is defined as the beliefs, ideas, traditions, speech and material objects associated with a particular group of people.
Appropriation is the illegal, unfair or unjust taking of something that doesn’t belong to you.
Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, told Jezebel that it’s difficult to give a concise explanation of cultural appropriation. The author of “Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law,” defined cultural appropriation as follows: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.
“It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”
In the United States, cultural appropriation almost always involves members of the dominant culture (or those who identify with it) “borrowing” from the cultures of minority groups. Black people, Asians, Latinxs and Native Americans generally tend to emerge as the groups targeted for cultural appropriation.
Black music and dance; Native American fashions, decoration, and cultural symbols; Chicano style and fashion; and Asian martial arts and dress have all fallen prey to cultural appropriation.
“Borrowing” is a key component of cultural appropriation and there are many examples in recent American history. However, it can be traced back to the racial beliefs of early America, an era when many white people saw people of color as less than human and the federal government codified that ideology into law.
Society has yet to move completely beyond those gross injustices. And insensitivity to the historical and current sufferings of marginalized groups remains apparent today.
In the 1950s, white musicians appropriated the music their Black counterparts invented. Because racism relegated Black people to the sidelines of U.S. society, record executives chose to have White artists replicate the sound of Black musicians.
The result is that music like rock-n-roll is largely associated with White people and its Black pioneers, like Little Richard, are denied the credit for the contributions that they deserve.
So if a group of white people are wanting to celebrate a black cultural event, they might want to check with people of that culture before “borrowing” the event for whatever purpose they have, out of respect for the people that view it as sacred.
To the credit of this aforementioned organization, that is what they did, and changed the name of the event out of respect for the African American community.
Bill Freeman is a retired mental health counselor and a progressive Democrat in McMinn County. He can be reached at email@example.com